Bears Strive for Consistency in Series Against Cardinal

Photo: <b>Center fielder Brett Jackson</b> is hitting .403 for the season and leads Cal with an on-base percentage of .476.
Nick Fradkin/File
Center fielder Brett Jackson is hitting .403 for the season and leads Cal with an on-base percentage of .476.

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While waiting for the Cal baseball team's Wednesday practice in preparation for its weekend series against Stanford, first baseman Mark Canha made a reluctant confession.

"I regret to admit that I did want to go to Stanford," Canha said. "But I had a meeting with their coach one time, and they just didn't want me."

In retrospect, it seems like that meeting had negative consequences only for the Cardinal. Canha -- one of the top players in the much-lauded Bellarmine College Prep program at the time -- ended up committing to the Bears and has developed into one of the squad's best hitters, currently pacing the team with a .406 batting average and 18 RBI.

So does that make the matchup against Stanford just another series for Canha?

"There's some extra incentive there," Canha said with a smile.

It's safe to say that extra incentive is also driving his teammates as they kick off conference play at 1 p.m. on Saturday against the Cardinal at Evans Diamond. And although the season is still young, the series may also prove to be a crucial litmus test for both squads.

For Cal, consistency has been its biggest Achilles' heel, as the Bears (10-7) have struggled to keep their play sharp from game to game. In 17 games, Cal has committed 21 errors and given up eight or more runs in six games but simultaneously ranks first or second in the Pac-10 in batting average, slugging percentage, hits and home runs.

"We can't dip into Triple-A and get another player. We are who we are, and it's about getting those players to improve during the season," coach David Esquer said. "That's a work in progress and that doesn't just happen easily That's the task that's in front of us."

The Bears did get a boost earlier in the week, though, as the squad hammered Pacific, 12-2, on Tuesday night to bounce back from two blowout losses to Cal Poly the weekend before. It is just those sorts of up-and-down performances, however, that Cal is striving to stabilize against Stanford (3-8).

"It was a rough weekend (against the Mustangs), but it was nice to come back," utility man Blake Smith said. "I don't think we gave up any at-bats and all our pitching did really well It was a good game to get us on the right track to open up the Pac-10 (schedule)."

The Cardinal, on the other hand, hasn't had trouble with consistency-its biggest struggle has simply been winning. Stanford has lost seven of its last eight and is currently hitting just .224 as team.

And considering that along with the Cardinal, perennial powers UCLA and USC also have sub-.500 records, the door could be cracking open for the Bears, who haven't won the conference since 1980.

"Guys are excited to open up Pac-10," Smith said. "We all think we have a chance to be a contender for the Pac-10 championship."


Contact Katie Dowd at [email protected]

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